Road to hell — every 3.7 minutes, death swoops in

India ranks worst when it comes to road accidents.

By Rajiv Theodore

NEW DELHI: This should send a chill down the spine of any motorist: in India, an accident happens every 60 seconds and every 3.7 minutes, to be precise, a road mishap snuffs out a life.

Driving on India’s roads could be as dangerous to life as negotiating through the mine–laden streets of Baghdad or meandering through the jihadist infested rabbit warrens of Kabul or Karachi.

Although, globally, 88 countries have reduced the number of road fatalities between 2008 and 2011, Indian roads have over this time become more deadly.

“It’s a worrying trend. We need to further step up efforts to bring down the number of road accidents,” CP Joshi, India’s road minister said.

According to a recent World Health Organization report, India has the highest number of road deaths in the world:  105,725 died last year on its roads, followed by China (96,611), the US (42,642) and Russia (35,972). The United Kingdom had 3,298 recorded road deaths. Worldwide, 1.3 million lives were lost.

Road accidents also create enormous losses to the exchequer. India loses $20 billion due to road accidents annually which is enough to feed 50% of the nation’s malnourished children.

More disturbingly, a large number of deaths from road accidents are borne by “vulnerable road users” such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. The burgeoning middle class, access to easier credits and an array of vehicles to choose from have all led to overcrowding of roads and its consequent chaos.

“Road traffic crashes are a growing health and development concern affecting all nations,” said Dr. Margaret Chin, WHO’s director general, suggesting that it is important to have an action plan for an intensified response.

Driver’s fault accounted for a whopping 77.5% of the total road accidents while pedestrian and cyclist’s fault accounted for a mere 3.7%.

Among the states, Maharashtra topped the list with the highest number of road accidents at 68,438 followed by Tamil Nadu (65,873), Madhya Pradesh (49,406), Karnataka (44,731) and Andhra Pradesh (44,165). Mumbai topped the list of cities with 25,471 road accidents, Delhi came second with 7281 road accidents followed by Bangalore (6031), Indore (4995) and Bhopal (3459).

In another disturbing trend, of the total number of road accidents, 53.5% were reported from rural areas, reflecting a rising tide of motorization in rural India.

The WHO report states that another 20 to 50 million sustained non-fatal injuries as a result of road traffic crashes. China recorded second highest deaths at 70,134 after India in 2010, while Brazil came third registering 36,499 deaths.

The report says that only 28 countries, representing 449 million people (7% of the world’s population), have adequate laws that address all the five risk factors – which is speed, drunk-driving, helmets, seat-belts and child restraints. India has a dismal record on all the five fronts.

Although the country has speed limits for all types of roads and well-defined norms for alcohol content in blood for all drivers, detection of violations is very low. On both the counts, the enforcement is as low as “three” in a scale of 0-10 whereas neighbors like Singapore has scored seven points.

A country with huge two-wheeler population, India has scored poorly on the compliance with helmets law. The global report points out that only 50% of drivers wear seat belts and it’s less than 10% in the case of passengers.

Road traffic injuries take an enormous toll on individuals and communities as well as on national economies. Middle-income countries, which are motorizing rapidly, are the hardest hit.

Road traffic injuries are the eighth leading cause of death globally, and the leading cause of death for young people aged 15–2 More than a million people die each year on the world’s roads, and the cost of dealing with the consequences of these road traffic crashes runs to billions of dollars. Current trends suggest that by 2030 road traffic deaths will become the fifth leading cause of death unless urgent action is taken.

“We need to see how we build our road, investigate properly how accidents occur and police probe these cases. There should be one group or body that should bring all sectors together, and it should announce a plan to reduce fatalities,” WHO representative in India Dr. Nata Menabde said.

India’s former Home Secretary, G K Pillai points out that road accidents and fatalities have never grabbed attention, while 2,000 people dying annually in terrorist acts becomes a national issue.

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